EVERY line in the official statement of Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu on SARS, the Lekki Toll Gate shooting, and the horrendous havoc hoodlums heaped on Lagos, dripped with intentions to win him sympathy. He largely succeeded in his “It wasn’t me mission.”
The statement was a masterly treat in pulsating prose that President Muhammadu Buhari’s speechwriters can learn a lot from on sublime combat. The iceberg theory of Ernest Hemingway was evident in the minimalist discourse of Nigeria’s two-week turmoil.
“I heavily grieve for those who have lost their lives or been injured during the period of these protests. My deepest sympathies go to their families and loved ones for none should have been made to pay such a dear price,” he began, in his Sunday statement titled, ‘The #EndSARS Protests; a Fundamental Lesson in Democratic Governance.’
Assumed Tinubu haters could even applaud the opener of the statement. The piece had so many soundbites that readers were spoilt for choice. Tinubu personally signed it.
What a sharp contrast with the President evincing he was forced to address Nigerians! Tinubu mostly dwelt on responding to allegations against him, especially sponsorship of the protests, ownership of some assets, particularly Lekki Toll Gate, scene of the October 20, 2020 shooting that is mired in dispute with the army’s denial of involvement.
Official condolences like the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s, point to shooting of unarmed, peaceful protesters at the toll gate. Tinubu’s response to the allegation that the toll gate was his, that he ordered the shooting to curb loss of revenue the peaceful protests occasioned, was to throw the onus of proof back to his accusers. He pleaded not guilty.
His rage was subsumed in the promotion of his huge political credentials. He marched against the annulment of the June 12 election, 27 years ago, went on exile, and has been a Senator, Governor of Lagos in 30 years of fighting on the side of democracy, rule of law and rights of peaceful protesters. Most of the youth would have been satisfied with just a slice of the fortunes the risks earned Tinubu.
How would President Buhari’s minders have reacted – in a statement – if he was directly accused of ordering the shooting in Lekki or amassing resources at the public’s expense? “I have been falsely accused of ordering the reported deployment of soldiers against peaceful protesters that took place at Lekki on 20 October 2020. This allegation is a complete and terrible lie,” Tinubu asserted.
Why would Tinubu who has not held an elective office in 13 years elaborately sympathise and empathise with victims of the havoc? What did the President gain by detaching himself from the issues?
“Those who have decided to hate me will hate me regardless of the truth. Today, I speak to those who believe in the importance of, and want to know, the truth,” Tinubu added. He did not need to remind us, all the same he did, that some did not like him based on false rumours peddled about him over time. Other haters were in political contests with him.
Was Tinubu under obligation to give an interim account of his stewardship? “I am, indeed, a promoter and financial investor in the Nation Newspaper and TVC,” he said of both media houses that hoodlums damaged. His losses in the incidents did not weaken his position that, “The right to protest is more than integral to the democratic setting. I stand strongly behind the people of Nigeria and affirm their right to protest peacefully. Along with all well-meaning, patriotic Nigerians, I want to see an end to all forms of institutionalized brutality and I shall do my utmost to see that this humane objective is realized.
“The direction and pace of our democratic progress weighs in the balance as the entire world watches to see how we manage ourselves at this delicate moment,” he concluded.
His television appearance on the same issues ruined the impact of the statement. Tinubu distanced himself from the temperament of his statement. He might as well have been caught at a carnival having the time of a lifetime.
Where was Tinubu in the past five days? Why did he not speak in the thick of the frays to assuage jingling nerves? Lekki was five days ago. Hoodlums ransacked Lagos for another three days. Every important voice was required to talk reasons to the mobs.
Tinubu was noticeably absent in words and deeds. His bragging rights were intact as he fielded questions on Sunday. Lagos had calmed after the riots of the past three days that had many streets and property on fire.
He cast aside the sobriety his statement portrayed. Tinubu boasted that he was in Lagos all the time there were speculations that he was abroad. “I was around. I am the Jagaban of Lagos,” he told his television interviewers. The original title was Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom in Niger State.
Reaching for his son, Seyi, who reportedly travelled to London, he jokingly recounted the media reports about Seyi, bantering that the Lagos State Governor might consider an allowance for Seyi.
In a twinkle, the garb he wore of a concerned Tinubu evaporated. Showtime was over. The change in mood returned anyone watching to that unanswered question, Why did it take him five days to speak? He was not asked.
Like President Buhari who never mentioned Lekki in a national broadcast that was about the incident, Jagaban in more than 3,000 words, employed to make his case, did not say a thing about the desecration of the palace of the Oba of Lagos. There has always been the assumption that Tinubu helped Oba Rilwan Aremu Akiolu to the throne. What has gone wrong?
Tinubu could, like the President, in the coming days explain the omission of the Oba’s plight just as presidential media aide Mallam Garba Shehu has told us that the President could not have sympathised with the victims of the shooting in Lekki when the judicial commission of enquiry had not ascertained what happened.
Ashiwaju of Lagos, Jagaban Borgu may be waiting to be sure that the Oba of Lagos was attacked. Grave as the omission was, whatever the reason was, Tinubu’s speechwriters know how to say important things importantly. They appear to realise the imperative of making less enemies for their principal, unlike the President’s men.